PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s been one of the signature moments of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs – and almost undoubtedly its best goal.
Portland Timbers winger Dairon Asprilla’s long-range rocket to put his team up 2-0 in the first leg of the Western Conference Championship against FC Dallas last Sunday at Providence Park was important not only for its stunning aesthetics – a rising right-footed blast from about 25 yards out that sailed into the far corner of the net.
It was important, obviously, in giving Portland a commanding two-goal advantage via a 3-1 win heading into Sunday’s second leg at Toyota Park in Frisco, Texas. (5 pm ET, ESPN)
But perhaps the biggest byproduct of Asprilla’s goal is that it serves as a sign that the 23-year-old Colombian is finally translating all the talent that led to his offseason signing almost exactly a year ago into on-field production.
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“I scored a beautiful goal, something that I was waiting for a while, and I thank the coaching staff for that gave me the opportunity,” Asprilla said in comments translated by MLSsoccer.com. “For that I try to repay them. It’s a beautiful moment to score because we’re in the [conference] finals.”
It was Asprilla’s first goal since April 19 and just his second in a Timbers uniform after making 10 starts in 26 regular-season appearances this season. But over the past month, Asprilla has been one of Portland’s more dangerous attackers.
He assisted in the Timbers’ extra-time equalizer off the bench in their thrilling penalty shootout Knockout Round victory over Sporting Kansas City and recorded another assist in Portland’s regular-season finale, a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids.
“He’s settling in. He’s figuring it out,” Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said of Asprilla. “The more a player settles in the more he figures it out. He understands his role, understands his teammates, his coach and starts to trust everybody. I think you are seeing that in Asprilla.”
The contributions from Asprilla are big for the Timbers, but perhaps even bigger for the player’s confidence after struggling to find his place following a professional career spent entirely in his native country. Asprilla even spent some time with Timbers 2, Portland's USL reserve team, where he made two starts over the summer.
“There were moments when I felt emotionally isolated from the team,” he said. “Because of that, this goal gives me a lot of happiness for the opportunity they gave me. It’s like taking another step in my career. It’s an important goal and I only hope to keep working so they continue to give me the opportunity.”
With Asprilla settling in, it gives the Timbers yet another dynamic piece in the attack alongside midfielders Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, winger Lucas Melano and forward Fanendo Adi. But did Porter know Asprilla had that kind of shot in him?
“He’s capable of that,” Porter said. “He can hit a heavy ball. Sometimes it’s not always the most accurate or precise, but I’ve seen him in training get ahold of that type of shot before, so fortunately it came at a good time.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.